hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004
This is really, really the last post: It is written in response to one Ian Welsh in Matt Stoller's comment thread. I am very, very sympathetic to Matt's post. I could have written it myself when the vapor's are on me. But ultimately, it's not the way to go :

"But atrios/stoller types also miss a trick when they don't realize George W Bush and his partisans and admirers are not bad people"

Sadly, the record does not support that. He's someone who took the US to war based on lies. That's worthy of the death penalty - thousands are dead because of this man's lies. Those who cover for him, especially those who should have known he was lying, are morally if not criminally culpable of murder.
Posted by Ian Welsh at June 10, 2004 01:30 AM

Ian, please don't make me defend the Bush administration. But Clinton took the American people into Bosnia with lies (one year, max). The Clinton administration told lies to themselves, and to others, in order not to intervene in Rwanda. Roosevelt took the US into WWII with lies. The costs of this war are many, many thousands of people dead, and that is horrific. But the benefits of replacing Saddam's regime with something better *are* potentially great. The national security case for war was bogus, and more or less crazy. But the moral/humanitarian case for war was *not* crazy, and depended on a careful analysis of the costs of war compared with the benefits of removing Saddam, as well as careful planning and implementation of the various policies that had to be followed to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits. From a moral perspective, what is unforgivable in the Bush administration is not the decision to invade, but the sheer carelessness and incompetence with they implemented their policy, as well as their obscene gloating and hubris in the wake of the inevitable military victory.

And plus, this is somewhat irrelevant to the great mass of non-partisan Americans now. We're in Iraq. Unless you can make a strong case of how we would be doing a better job than the Bush administration *now*, at this moment, instead of saying "they fucked up, the situation is irretrievable, the most important task before us is punish all the Bush administration people who got us into this mess", you will not be persuasive to non-partisan Americans, and you probably won't win. One of Matt's main points in this post is "These bastards have committed crimes, and it's not just enough to replace them, we need to hold them accountable". Not that holding people acountable isn't important, it is just much less important than several other things, among them getting universal health care, getting our fiscal house in order, saving the social safety net, competent leadership to make the best of Iraq, competent leadership to make the best of Afghanistan, competent leadership in the War on Terror, competent leadership on other foreign policy issues, and lots of other stuff.

Lastly, Matt, George C Marshall probably despised Macarthur, and had more just cause to despise him, than any man alive. Yet when Marshall was running the war, he still had to make nice and treat Macarthur with kid gloves, because meting out justice to Macarthur was simply not worth it, given the costs. The same with Lincoln and the Confederates after the civil war. When Valclav Havel or Nelson Mandela rose to power, Do you think they liked having to kiss the ass and refrain from punishing a bunch of people who either committed great evils or were Uncle Tom's to those who did? The price of winning may be that we can't punish people as much as they ought to be punished, because the costs are just too damn high. When we get the keys to the car, we're going to need George W Bush, Don Rumsfeld, Tim Russert, Cokie Roberts, and the people who follow or admire them. As Al Gore once said "We are one people, with a common purpose and a common destiny". Our victory, if we do win, will come not by destroying our political opponents, but by persuading, coopting or neutralizing them. Or, if they refuse to play a constructive role, by letting them destroy themselves.

. . .Maybe just one more. This one a quote from Prof. Brad Delong's A Page on Keynes The smartest thing I've read on Property Rights:

"There is a respectable and influential body of opinion which… fulminates alike against devaluations and levies, on the ground that they infringe the untouchable sacredness of contract…. Yet such persons, by overlooking one of the greatest of all social principles, namely the fundamental distinction between the right of the individual to repudiate contract and the right of the State to control vested interest, are the worst enemies of what they seek to preserve. For nothing can preserve the integrity of contract between individuals except a discretionary authority in the State to revise what has become intolerable. The powers of uninterrupted usury are great. If the accreations of vested interest were to grow without mitigation for many generations, half the population would be no better than slaves to the other half…. The absolutists of contract… are the real parents of revolution…"

. . .Finally final. Here is an email I just sent to Josh Marshall in regard to 1) his post pondering what 'failure' means in Iraq 2) His posts about the "Real Americans" criticism of the Democrats.

In one Josh's posts about a week ago he wrote "Next: what does 'failure' mean in Iraq?" I'd be interested to know what his answer is, because here is my take on using the word 'failure' or 'defeat' to describe Iraq:

"the US is not going to be "defeated" in Iraq. The Iraq war can be considered a mistake only in terms of number of people killed (versus number of lives saved) and in terms of opportunity cost, and whether it has made America safer or less so, more hated or less so, more loved or less so, not in terms of absolute victory or defeat. In absolute terms, victory of some sort was inevitable from the moment war was declared against Saddam's fourth-rate, demoralized military; Only the costs, benefits and nature of that victory was in doubt."

In regard the "Real Americans" issue, I think it is an issue, and a very real problem for the Democrats. If you want an explanation for the unshakeable self-confidence of Republicans in their own fitness to rule, versus the pathological timidity and cautiousness of the Democrats, there are only two real explanations: 1) the heavily Republican tilt to the military officer corps, and the somewhat lesser tilt of the enlisteds. I don't know if you remember all the Republican hacks saying during the 2000 election, smugly and almost gleefully, "I can't tell you how many officers and junior officers have told me they're going to resign if Gore wins the election". The purpose of such noxious swaggering was clearly to make weak-minded swing voters fearful of the consequences of voting Democratic 2) the fact that the Republicans have had substantial majority support of the majority ethnicity for a long, long time.

Also, there is a very real phenomenon of "Majority Momentum", which is the fact, that in a really close, bitterly contested election, swing voters will be strongly influenced by their peer group, and thus the majority choice within any particular ethnic community will receive a boost in the closing days of a close, bitterly contested election. Thus, all else being equal, "on the fence" black voters will be more likely to vote Democratic, and "on the fence" white voters will be more likely to vote Republican. In the words of the Simpson's, "One of Us! One of Us! One of Us!"

I don't have any real solutions for the Democrats, except not to panic: Democrats still have a hold on at least 40% of the white vote, so the problem is probably not nearly so serious as I am making out. But when the vapors are on me, I do sometimes worry that our national politics will become like some sections of the south writ large, where the Republican party becomes where white people basically belong, where swing white voters who could potentially be Democrats instead succumb to peer pressure, and only oddballs and antedilevian white people remain/become Democrats.

Lastly, I think the Republicans *could* get more black votes if they tried. How? First, switch sides on a few high-profile issues like voting rights for DC residents, and sentencing disparity for crack/powder cocaine (but not affirmative action), and then crow about how while Clinton diddled around ineffectually, Bush delivered. Then, make an aggressive pitch that Republicans can do a better job on inner-city crime, inner-city schools and inner-city economic development, because of their access to capital and entrepreneurs, and their willingness to crack down on / demand accountability from municipal unions.

Why don't Republican's do this? beats me. I think it's because they convince themselves that black voters vote Democrat for irrational reasons, so nothing they have done or will do can make a difference.

. . .and what the hell. Here is a comment in response to David Neiwert's epic blog post, "The Political and the Personal" :

you've written an essay which is like a piece of music you listen to with no great reaction a couple of times but has a way of sliding itself into your mind again and again. I don't know if you've read Jeffrey Toobin's "A Vast Conspiracy", but there's a moving scene where a West Virginia Democrat looks across the Potomac and weeps for the partisan hatred which has been stirred up. I reall could write an endless response to this but here it is in a nutshell: getting angry over political arguments is nearly always pointless, even when a great deal is at stake. George W Bush is not a bad person, nor is Sandra Day O Connor, nor is Antonin Scalia. But then how could they issue such an intellectually dishonest ruling? Well, they reminded themselves of several instances of Democratic perfidy and intellectual dishonesty, and thus convinced themselves that Bush V. Gore was an eye for an eye, a fair response to Democratic provocation.

here are are some notes I once jotted down on the subject:

"the partisan outlook: when confronted with an unpleasant fact, argument, or assertion glide past it, and present the other side with an unpleasant argument, fact, or assertion. Pile up a long list of grievances/proofs of the other sides wrongness, and remain wilfully ignorant of the pile of evidence the other side is accumulating. Then, when you are challenged on any one argument, you can wave it away in good conscience. All right, the opposition may have scored one minor point, a few branches on a tree, but is there any doubt about who the forest belongs too?

the mainstream media/establishment and many conservatives are not acting out of malice, or indeed out of any conscious intention of different treatment, and therefore will not realize the error of their ways, nor will history correct current wrongs. Nor, for those who believe in the afterlife, will the perpatrators pay grievously for their sins.

democrats will have to conquer their anger with the knowledge that justice for past wrongs will never occur. They must overcome their anger and self-pity and console themselves with the belief that: 1) this world was never meant to be fair, and you only have the responsibility to do your best. 2) to keep sanity and perspective, make a careful note of where your opinions differ from the mainstream, without expecting that the mainstream will eventually come round to your way of thinking when the scales somehow fall from their eyes. Precision helps to diffuse anger. You are more likely to become angry and disilusioned when you vehemently disagree with the mainstream, you suspect their disagreement is based on disingenousness or failure to think things through or some kind of error or disingenousness, but you cannot quite prove this is the case."

So are we just supposed to sit back and take it? No, but we have to fight back in a disciplined, kind-hearted, cheerful (even when you don't feel it) take the high-road type way. Instead of attacking Bush, boost up your own people. The best revenge is doing well.

. . .and here is the second, in response to this Yglesias post :

There's one point I wish someone would make about these constant assertions by Michael Totten et al. (I single him out because he seems the most decent, and should know better) that some person or the other "wants America to lose" or is "not anti-war, just on the other side". "Wants America to lose" if you take that accusation seriously, as you should, does not just mean pessimistic assessments or strong criticism of the Iraq war. It means, to use Orwell's example, if this anti-war person knew Saddam's whereabouts, they would not call Gen Sanchez, they would instead call Al-Jazeera and wail "Saddam, be careful, they're after you!". Isn't that the actual meaning of accusing someone of "wanting America to lose"?

If these accusers really believe their political opponents "want America to lose", they're fools. If they know better but use such ugly rhetoric because it feels so good and succeeds in cowing and intimidating the more weak-minded of their political opponents, they're intellectual bullies. If they're merely lashing out in a thoughtless fashion. then they should apologize, forthwith.

Also, Matt, one quibble: the US is not going to be "defeated" in Iraq. The Iraq war can be considered a mistake only in terms of number of people killed (versus number of lives saved) and in terms of opportunity cost, and whether it has made America safer or less so, more hated or less so, more loved or less so, not in terms of absolute victory or defeat. In absolute terms, victory of some sort was inevitable from the moment war was declared against Saddam's fourth-rate, demoralized military; Only the costs, benefits and nature of that victory was in doubt.

I am going on a, er, blog reading hiatus (really!, I swear!) and am going to post two comment-rants inspired by Matt Yglesias posts.

Here is the first post, in response to Yglesias's post and Stoller's post :

I think the key difference between atrios/kos/stoller types and yglesias/drum types is that they are both anti-bush-cheney-Republican, but only atrios/stoller types are pro Clinton-Gore-Kerry Democrats. Yglesias and Drum will bash Bush with the best of them, but they will not really praise Kerry or Gore *as people* with any passion or intensity, and they will not usually defend them from the conservative attacks with any passion or intensity, picking the nasty, over-personal fights with conservative bloggers that such defense entails.

This is actually more true of Kevin Drum than it is Yglesias. Actually, Matt has written some of the more persuasive defenses of Clinton and his record, on terrorism, for example. But there is a kernel of truth in it. I can't imagine Matt writing a defense of Clinton or Gore or Kerry, not on pure policy grounds, but simply as a good people, with good values, not soft on defense, not soft on terrorism, not crazy, not blinded by Bush-hatred, not unprincipled, and with their hearts in the right place.

In this respect these guys miss a trick, for it has always been the Republican's core tactic to delegitimize liberalism by delegitimising, not its ideas, but its leaders. Unless you are willing to go on a limb and go to bat and defend, not the moral perfection, but the basic morality and decency of your leaders, you may win some battles but you'll lose the war. Unless you are willing to go to bat and say that Al Gore did not do one damn thing wrong at that Bhuddist temple, did not engage in any crooked or shady fundraising, is among one of the more honrable, decent and yes honest, American politicians, that Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich was a mistake, not deliberate corruption, and regardless, that Bill Clinton is not a corrupt man, that John Kerry is a good and decent man, principled and with good values, not a flip-flopper, not a phony, etc. etc. Unless you do all that, you will remain puzzled why the non-partisan American voter will, whatever their views on policy, pull the trigger for George W Bush, who whatever his flaws, does at least have people who are willing to passionately defend him and his morality.

But atrios/stoller types also miss a trick when they don't realize George W Bush and his partisans and admirers are not bad people, with malign motives, they are not the enemy, and Democrats will not become the majority party by being angry and unyielding. In other words, its more about boosting your guys and your side, than it is about tearing the other side down.

In other words, when Morris makes an outrageous statement re: Kerry and Al-Qaeda, you pile on the outrageous statement with a full-throated defense of Kerry and his anti-terrorism credentials, but don't waste your time by attacking Dick Morris as a person, and trying to grind him to dust. For one thing, Dick Morris says many things, some clever, some true, and some beyond the pale. If you try to destroy Morris for his beyond-the-pale statement, you make him an enemy for life, instead of giving him a chance to reform to change. That's not the way to build a majority.

Gore makes this mistake as well. Upset by the ridiculous coverage of Ceci Connolly and Fox news, he responded by freezing them out and denying them access. What he should have done is continued to treat them civilly and courteously, despite their unfair coverage, and maybe their relationship would have improved, at least at the margins. Instead their hatred of each other just kept getting more and more bitter, and the coverage became even more outrageous.

Where partisan politics is concerned, don't hold grudges, and righteous indignation is highly overrated. In American politics, you win by turning enemies to friends, or at least non-enemies, not by attempting to grind them into dirt.

Also, don't be too preachy or long-winded. People hate that.